Tuitahi Anticipates The Worst Has Yet To Come
Sinaitakala Tuitahi (R) says the loss of income and markets for farmers may result in agricultural theft IMAGE: Growers Federation of Tonga
The closure of borders in over 70 countries is affecting global agricultural value chains and food systems.
As many farmers are denied access to markets, many more in Asia and the Pacific are forced to abandon fresh produce due to lack of access to storage and cooling facilities.
Sinaitakala Tuitahi, the CEO for Growers Federation of Tonga says the global pandemic is expected to have serious impacts.
“If COVID 19 continues to persist say for the next 3 months – it will be a great challenge to food security – the very basic need of the people.”
She said: “We’re seeing a rise in the consumption of unhealthy foods from retail shops as a result of the lockdown and the loss of income for growers is quite astronomical.”
“Group work is restricted and it’s affecting our exports and loan repayments with the banks.”
Tuitahi anticipates the worst has yet to come.
“Our farmers have no market to sell their crops; it means no income for farmers, a high wastage of primary produce and because there is no market – agricultural theft will occur.”
She said: “Sales are already reduced, we expect there will be a shortage of seedlings and planting materials in the future in addition to reduced support from extension services.”
In an effort to enhance the resilience of the agriculture sector against the global pandemic, Tuitahi said Growers Federation of Tonga is working closely with members and various stakeholders to mitigate its impacts.
“There are organisations we are working with including the National Reserve Bank to influence the banks to waive and reschedule the agricultural loan repayments.”
She said: “We’re informing growers to apply to government assistance, particularly the full time commercial growers in addition to identifying our most vulnerable members, and strengthening our networks and outreach through mass communication campaigns and also participating in emergency relief efforts targeting the most vulnerable.”
Tuitahi said governments and development partners need to work together.
“There’s a need for refinancing and deferral of agricultural loans, taxes and lease payments while also increasing the availability of grants to support farming initiatives.”
“Our full time commercial growers need financial assistance and street vendors need to be allowed to sell their fresh produce whilst the main market is still on lockdown to mitigate further threats of COVID 19 on the agriculture sector.”
“There is always a light at the end of the tunnel and this is a time for united partnerships between our governments and development partners.”